Dhrupads and Khyals – the basics

Dhrupads and Khyals – the basics

Friday, December 10, 2021 , Raga Labs

In such contemporary times,we have people more invested into interactions on their mobile devices than that in real-life, which has inevitably been amplified thanks to this unprecedented pandemic. In a time and age where attention spans are invariably shrinking due to this very nature, things of intrinsically high duration or length are more unfortunately likely to lose traction, or simply, subject to compression. Dhrupads are one of many examples.  

Dhrupads are the oldest known style affiliated to Hindustani classical music and an essential component of Indian heritage. There are four variants, or styles, of Dhrupads: Gauhar, Khandar, Nuhar, and Dagar. Dhrupads transcend religious borders feeding into the thematics of hinduism and islam as a means of worship. They were practised both in temples as well as in royal courts. The word itself has a Sanskrit origin split into (1) druva meaning immovable/permanent and (2) pada (meaning verse). Dhrupads have a long history going back to ancient sacred scripts including the Natyashastra (~200 BC) and even the Bhagavata Purana. It is said to be a form of the Gandharva Veda (study of all art forms including music, dance, and poetry) . Further, dhrupads are said to have emerged from the  recitation of the Samaveda (One of the 4 main ancient vedic texts in Hinduism) which follows a rhythm called Samgana. Dhrupads flourished extensively in the time of the Mughals.

An elaborate Aalap usually precedes the dhrupad’s 4 fundamental segments, which are subsequently sung to a rhythmic accompaniment. (Sthayi, Antara, Savchari, Abhog). The sets of syllables used in the Aalap (i.e. (1) a, re, ne, na ; te, te, re ne na) are derived from the vedic mantras and are rendered in different combinations. The aalap can actually  be further divided into three groups – the aalap (unmetered), jor (steady rhythm) and the jhala (accelerated strumming). The most commonly used talas (beats) that accompany the dhrupad are Coutala (12 beats), Dhamara (14 beats), Jhaptala (10 beats), Sultala (10 beats), and Tivra (7 beats). 

Here is an example of how a Dhrupad is structured and performed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOHHKkS5rMs

Khayals can be seen as a musical derivative of dhrupads albeit a vocal genre on and of its own. Whilst the essence of the underlying raags and bandishes is preserved, the rendition is quite different with Khayals. Khayals are essentially the more popular form of classical music. Khayals have embodied different facets of expression from various folk forms as well. The word itself has a Persian/Arabic origin meaning ‘Imagination’ which is quite evident in its expression.

There are essentially three components of the Kyal (1) The Raga (melodic framework – please refer to this article for more information on ragas), (2) The Tala (metrical framework) and (3) The Bandish (the actual melodic composition). A Khyal performance predominantly uses two types of bandish compositions (1) The bada (great) khyal and (2) The chota (small) khyal. Both are usually performed in the same raga but in different talas owing to the difference in rhythm and speed of execution. Slow speed is known as vilambit laya; medium speed is known as madhya laya and fast speed is known as drut laya. Whilst the bada khayal primarily begins at vilambit or madhya laya, chota khayals usually begin with the drut laya. Compared to Dhurpads, there is less structure and more room for melodic improvisations and ornamentations. 

Unlike Dhrupad performances which are mostly monophonic in nature (no accompanying harmony or chord progressions), khayal performances have accompaniments to the vocalist who complement the vocal line by playing in heterophony (simultaneous variation from the melodic line).  Whilst Dhrupads were performed in royal courts, Khayals were typically performed outside the realms of such aristocratic societies of the time.